If you’re wondering how an HR chatbot would work, imagine this simple scenario:
Jane Employee: Hi, is May 1st a holiday?
HR chatbot: Our company observes the following holidays this year: [follows with list]
Jane Employee: I want to take some time off.
HR chatbot: Sure, please select the dates in the field below and click submit.
Notice how quick and easy that interaction was. The employee didn’t have to find the right person to ask and then wait for an answer or spend time digging in the company’s HRIS (HR Information System). An HR person didn’t receive a distracting ping with a basic question in the company’s messaging app. With the help of the HR chatbot, both workers saved time and effort.
What is an HR chatbot?
You’ve probably heard of digital assistants like Alexa and Siri. Your HR chatbot might well be less intelligent than them, but it’s perfectly capable of answering questions, helping employees and directing them to HR for the most complex issues. It performs these tasks via understanding text or speech (e.g. using natural language processing).
Automation is a big opportunity for HR
HR departments spend most of their time on “transactional” tasks, like employee communications, onboarding, managing payroll– all activities that could be either fully or partially automated to free up HR’s time for the more strategic initiatives. In fact, HR professionals want to spend more time on professional development, training employees, and managing company culture instead.
An HR chatbot is part of automation efforts – and one that can be easily implemented, at least in its basic form.
HR chatbots = better employee experience
HR chatbots have a number of benefits. They:
- Save time and reduce strain on the HR team
- Help employees get quick answers
- Reduce the possibility of human error, since they draw answers automatically from an HRIS or knowledge base
- Keep HR processes going even if HR employees are on leave or sick
These benefits synthesize the one overarching purpose of HR automation: chatbots in HR are improving the employee experience. This means employees are more productive and feel happier at the company.
HR chatbots achieve this directly by streamlining communications with employees and indirectly by allowing HR to focus on improving the workplace. They’re also cost-effective since they’re always “on” but will only need to be set up once. Companies also save costs: employees won’t waste paid hours on tasks the chatbot can handle on its own.
That’s why companies have started implementing – and in some cases even created their own chatbots for employees: Unilever has Una, Segment created Spoke, and so on. Other businesses opt for ready-made tech they can train with their own data.
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HR chatbot question examples
Common situations, with examples of questions, that an HR chatbot can handle include:
- Sharing company policies. “What is the company’s policy on parental leave?”
- Producing time off balances. “How much time off do I have left?”
- Registering time off. “I’d like to take some time off.”
- Giving salary documentation. “Can you give me last month’s paycheck?”
- Pulling past benefits taken. “How much training leave did I take last year?”
- Providing an overview of current benefits. “What does my corporate mobile plan include?”
- Accessing or updating employee profile information. “I’ve moved and I’d like to change my home address.”
- Onboarding new employees. “Who’s responsible for marketing operations?”
- Supporting recruitment. “Can you show me the open jobs in sales?”
- Supporting learning and development programs. “Can I register for a course?”
- Tracking attendance. “I worked 30 hours last week.”
HR chatbot use cases
To give you a better idea of how HR chatbots could work, have a look at these example scenarios:
- Sharing internal information. Perhaps the simplest use case is answering common employee queries. Employees can quickly ask about benefits, practices, etc. and get an instant answer. The HR chatbot can also be programmed to refer employees to an HR professional for the more complex (or legally risky) queries such as ‘recommended health plans.’
- HR onboarding chatbot. Companies using chatbots in HR can automate the part of onboarding that deals with sharing company and process knowledge with new employees. HR doesn’t need to answer repetitive questions from new hires. Employees can instead get instant answers by simply typing a question to the chatbot.
- Recruitment. The HR chatbot can, at the very least, help candidates look through job openings, complete application forms, or register for your company’s career days or events. With advanced settings and full integration with your recruiting CRM, the bot can automate an even greater part of the hiring process by helping you source candidates, screen resumes, ask candidates qualifying questions, and more.
- Employee satisfaction. A chatbot can be used to monitor employee morale and satisfaction levels. It can be integrated into a messaging app that employees use daily (e.g. Slack) and send automated messages to gather feedback. The chatbot may also be able to administer surveys and analyze sentiments.
These should give you an idea about what chatbots can do. They’re more than just Q&A tech. They can be a full-blown digital assistant for a number of functions.
How do you know you need a chatbot?
Here are some scenarios where you might benefit from an HR chatbot (the list isn’t exhaustive):
- You have multiple offices with a centralized HR department. Even if your individual branches, offices, or teams have unique policies, there might still be companywide practices they need to follow. This means getting frequent help from ‘central’ HR, which could get overwhelmed by the volume of queries.
- You have a small HR department, but a growing number of employees. Your company may not plan to grow the HR department just yet, but you also don’t want to overload your existing HR employees with additional tasks.
- You’re ramping up hiring. If you’re planning to onboard a large number of new hires in the future, you may benefit from having automated assistance in place for them.
- Your HR team is spending too much time on repetitive communications. If your HR team frequently has to answer the same questions (e.g. “Where can I find the employee handbook?”), that’s a sure sign you can automate that part of employee communications. Especially if you plan to have your team implement complex strategic initiatives, you’d benefit from freeing up their time.
Everything you wanted to know about chatbots
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What to pay attention to when implementing an HR chatbot
Setting up a chatbot for HR or recruiting doesn’t have to be a dizzying, overly technical task. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Start small and simple. It’s better to avoid being overly ambitious at first. If, for instance, you start with automating your entire recruitment process, and something goes wrong, it’ll be more difficult to fix and employees might lose their motivation or interest to engage with the tech. Choose clear and quantifiable goals that your HR chatbot can help you meet. These could be “reduce time spent on answering questions about policies” or “automate all time off requests.” Make sure you settle on what the HR chatbot will be responsible for and how it’ll route queries back to the HR department or HRIS.
- List possible questions. To train your chatbot, you need to know what employees are likely to ask. Get feedback from your entire HR team on what queries they usually have to answer. Break down all HR functions you’d like to automate (benefits, compensation, attendance, time off, performance reviews, etc.) and identify questions (and their alternatives) you might receive from employees for each one. Then, map out the chatbot’s answers: do they need to pull data? Present a form? Ask for more information? Make sure you understand the sequences that might occur.
- Requesting leave: Can I take some time off? / How can I log in vacation days? / I'd like to take PTO.
- Asking about policies: Can you send me the company’s maternity leave policy? / What’s our policy on pets in the office?
- Be mindful of confidentiality and data protection. HR handles a lot of sensitive information. The HR chatbot will inevitably have access to some, so protections need to be in place. When choosing chatbot software, make sure to ask about the privacy laws it complies with and how it keeps data secure. Work with the IT department to set the chatbot’s permissions, too.
- Update your knowledge base or HRIS information. Your HR chatbot will be integrated with your information databases in order to pull the right answer when needed. This means the information should be updated, organized and easy to access. Spend some time with your team and the IT department to ensure all written policies or data are accurate and intact. Then, you can upload files from your internal Wiki to the chatbot.
- Train your bot not to answer questions. That’s right – there are issues that involve legal risk, so make sure your HR chatbot won’t attempt to provide answers in these cases. Consider these scenarios beforehand, and train your chatbot. For example, if an employee asks how much workers’ comp they’re entitled to or what’s the best health plan for their heart condition, the chatbot should recommend they speak to HR.
- Add a human touch. Conversation with a robot may sometimes feel, well, robotic. If your chatbot’s greetings or answers are too dry, it might inadvertently annoy employees. So, use the software provided to strike an authentic and positive tone based on the principles of conversational design.
HR chatbots are the future
Talk of automation has been around for years, but implementation hasn’t been as widespread as expected. According to Gartner, virtual assistants in Human Capital Management are in the early stages of adoption, expecting to reach maturity within 5 to 10 years. However, based on the same report, 35 percent of organizations will be using conversational user experience and natural language processing interactions in their talent acquisition process by 2022.
So, despite HR chatbots being somewhat behind compared to other technologies, they’re still expected to become the norm in a few years. And that, at least for now, is an opportunity: implementing a chatbot can translate into a competitive advantage in the next decade. If you want to give it a try, now is a good time.